Cincinnati backfield up for challenge

Jameel Poteat is a product of "Tailback High," having broken Bishop McDevitt records just a few years after Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy did the same at the Harrisburg, Pa., high school. So when the Cincinnati sophomore is asked about the big shoes to fill this season in the Bearcats' backfield, he is not running from the challenge.

Poteat -- who was mentored by McCoy, who himself had been mentored by McDevitt alum and Pro Bowler Ricky Watters -- already got a head start during his first college fall, rooming with eventual Big East offensive player of the year Isaiah Pead on road trips last season. The then-true freshman picked the senior's brain on everything from pass protection to managing a body over the course of a season.

"I love it," Poteat said of the expectations Pead left behind. "I'm just trying to live up to what he did here, and the challenge of that is just making me better."

Poteat, George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy IV are the men in the backfield tasked with matching the production of Pead, a second-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams who ran for Big East bests of 1,259 yards and 12 rushing scores in 2011.

"I don't know if it's realistic to ask one individual to replace the production of an Isaiah Pead, but I'm really encouraged by what I see by the running back group as a whole," coach Butch Jones said. "The great thing about these individuals is all their skill sets complement each other, and they're extremely unselfish individuals."

Winn, a fifth-year senior, leads Cincinnati's returning running backs, having rushed for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season. Winn's coming-out party came in the Bearcats' Liberty Bowl win over Vanderbilt, as his 69-yard touchdown run in the second quarter got Cincinnati on the board.

Winn said he is looking to build off that performance, and Jones has praised his blue-collar approach so far in camp, saying the senior's quiet, confident demeanor has left an impression on the underclassmen.

"It's a big difference between going into this camp and [last year's] camp," said Winn, who is no longer in the shadow of Pead and has added a few pounds in bracing for the heavier workload.

Winn rushed the ball 40 times last season, with the Poteat and Abernathy combining for 37 carries in their debut campaigns. The players have described healthy relationships on and off the field, correcting each other's mistakes and understanding that each will see carries.

Each has described new position coach Roy Manning as a "player's coach," and Cincinnati is hoping that backfield chemistry can help the ground game make up for the loss of the school's No. 3 career rusher.

"I think each has a skill set, from George Winn -- I thought George Winn gained valuable experience in his performance in the Liberty Bowl victory over Vanderbilt," Jones said. "And then obviously Ralph David Abernathy, and the experience Jameel Poteat was able to gain as a true freshman. So I think all three of those individuals complement each other, and right now they're also feeding off each other."